My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEEDLES, Calif.—I have received a letter touching on a problem that we, as Americans, should think about. It reads:

"I hope I am not taking up your time and wasting it. I am an American Negro 33 years of age, born and raised in Los Angeles. I have a problem and I consider it a serious problem. In 1953 I completed a course for a licensed beautician at the Los Angeles Trade Technical Junior College. I passed the state board examination and received my California license.

"I applied for work in various beauty salons and department stores and also outside. I have always been turned down flat because of my race. So in late 1953 I moved to San Francisco , where I went through the thing all over again. Department stores would advertise in the newspapers for a hairdresser. I would call up, give them my name, and they would say come right over. When I got there, they looked at me as though they had seen a ghost.

"Finally, I got a job. I stayed there for two years until I decided to make my home in New York. I have lived in New York since 1955. I applied for my hairdresser's license, which I now have. I live in Greenwich Village. I have applied for jobs at one of the city's large department stores, and also at a large hotel. I have applied in Greenwich Village in shops along Eighth Street. They won't have me. They have told other people: `What would our customers think of a Negro man working on their hair?'

"I am at a loss. I have some special customers and I do their hair at their homes; but to make ends meet I have to work as a janitor. Why should this be? I have trained as a beautician. I was in the war, overseas. I was in the Navy from 1944 to May, 1946. I don't think in terms of race, but I am growing bitter to think that I am not hired because of race. How can I improve my skill unless I can practice?

"If you have any suggestions, or can help me in any way, I would be grateful. All I want is a job to begin in my profession. I am willing to work up if that is required."

I have left out a few things, such as the suggestion that this young man work in Harlem. That requires a special kind of training, however, and he does not want to specialize in it. I have asked a number of people if they would have any feeling about having their hair washed or done by a colored man. I have found that very often women prefer to have their hair done by men rather than women. This has always seemed to me ridiculous, because women are quite as good as men in this profession. Sometimes men take more trouble to improve themselves by study, and a great many foreigners have had more intensive training abroad than some of our women. But if you are willing to have your hair done by a man and you have no objection to his being of foreign nationality, then I cannot see why one should object to a colored person; and a number of the people I have asked feel as I do.

Perhaps there is really more timidity on the part of those who own the beauty parlors: they often have a fairly hard time running them anyway, and don't want to add to their troubles. This is quite understandable; yet it seems to me unfair that an American citizen trained in a certain kind of work cannot find employment in his profession because of the color of his skin.

I hope a great many people will think this over, because this is distinct discrimination in employment.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Needles (Calif., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, January 11, 1960

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.